Chris Delatorre. 2015. “Local Communities and Socialized Citizens: The Role of Social Networks in Sustainable Urban Development.” See my highlights on Diigo.
Visualizing the Network
A distributed social networking model for local communities can help drive the missions of local organizations and increase their impact, while inspiring new ways to distribute resources, manage infrastructure, and nurture local economies. As neither private nor governmental, CSOs collectively provide the basis for a framework for civic participation. On its face the network would resemble existing social networking applications, with a CMS-compatible element for administrative functions, and most or all member activity occurring in mobile environments (i.e. phones and tablets). Within the proposed framework, CSOs would incorporate distributed social networking into their program portfolios and budgets. A distributed social ecology facilitated by cross-sector partnerships would help precipitate a robust global reporting structure, and with it a more effective means of advocating for human rights, community development and the preservation of local cultures.
The relationship between sectors is critical, where social agency is balanced with community development. A distributed social networking apparatus for CSOs (herein referred to as “the network”) must consider interoperability, where stakeholders exchange data and best practices via compatible systems. To understand the practical function of the network, let’s consider existing issue-based online initiatives. One example is Al Hubb Thaqafa, a platform that educates young people, girls in particular, on sex and relationships, in Arabic. Its editorial team, mostly women, appeals to a largely female following with frank conversation on what many consider taboo.43 By incorporating this and similar platforms into the distributed framework, CSOs committed to women’s issues can align their missions and enlist members in their communities for surveys and local projects. One such project is SPARK, where a mobile app lets subscribers know when they approach an exact location of where a woman made history. Subscribers can nominate historical women to be featured.44 Using the network, casual subscribers become advocates. Caravan Studios in the U.S., a division of TechSoup Global that specializes in community-building apps, is field-testing a mobile crowdfunding app that allows subscribers to pay for hotel rooms for victims of domestic abuse, as well as others in urgent need.45 Curated conversations from across the network can be used as teaching supplements in schools and medical clinics, and for community social campaigns. Cross-sector interoperability would allow distributed nodes in the network to integrate data from all of these apps through a localized experience for community members, promoting safety education in an open and nonthreatening way. A Houston tech startup, The Survivor Games, gives teen cancer survivors a supportive environment through gaming to build confidence, strength and friendships. Via the network, community members could discuss symptoms, coping issues or early detection methods. Within the proposed framework, local cancer research facilities and advocacy organizations would provide support for patients and family members, obtaining and sharing vital information in real time. Jorge Soto and his team in Mexico City are developing a noninvasive open source test that will allow even inexperienced users to detect early signs of cancer.46,47
CSOs and members of civil society must have adequate incentives for a distributed system to work. Here I will highlight civil society and the social sector, acknowledging that players across sectors must have a reason to participate. Theoretically, mobile app subscribers who connect to local CSOs and contribute to their communities could receive benefits in the form of tax relief, public transportation credits or discounts from local businesses. CSOs could use data to determine long-term efficacy of individual contributions toward goals set with local governments. CSOs can clearly benefit by connecting to more potential volunteers and donors, where collaborating with local governments and businesses provides a natural conduit for programs via consumer and public campaigns, and the greater mobile collective consciousness.
Global philanthropy metanetworks (networks whose members are networks) are in a good position to connect these organizations, giving them a unique responsibility to spur the adoption of best practices and advocate for more effective distribution of institutional, financial and human resources.48 Implementing the network will require a comprehensive and accurate inventory of local organizations, global and regional NGOs, and multilateral initiatives. With comprehensive philanthropy infrastructure datasets, metanetworks will inspire a more robust reporting system across regions as more organizations join the network. Metanetworks with diverse and far-reaching memberships are ideal intermediaries for recruitment and implementation, where member organizations in developed countries would sponsor members in developing countries through knowledge sharing and capacity building initiatives. Multilateral entities like the United Nations could assist in authoring a code of data ethics for the network, and subsequent revisions could be mediated via sector-wide data initiatives like the Global Philanthropy Data Charter. Furthermore, support from legacy foundations and other well-funded organizations bolster consumer confidence and increase returns.
This framework won’t come without challenges. As suggested, incentivizing players across sectors as well as community members will be an ongoing process. And any solution will be hard to navigate because civil society is often contradictory, and therefore much broader than any one definition of human rights and social justice.49 Data and online security are also considerations. Nonprofits themselves typically are very willing to exchange data, but networks of nonprofits (e.g. associations) are less so. Along with greater transparency, CSOs will need to increase their awareness and competency around online safety. Also, certain cities may not be logistically equipped to implement this system. “Insufficient ICT infrastructure, systems, platforms, standards, lack of understanding the technology potentials and poor cross-sector integration often prevent local governments from delivering on ICT visions”.50 Finally, sound ethics in data will need to be prioritized during the coming transformational urban shift.51
With growing global urbanization, local communities and economies are facing unprecedented infrastructural and environmental challenges. Community members can help facilitate sustainable growth by participating locally with CSOs via mobile technology. Distributed social networking allows CSOs and their constituents to operate independently from one another while connected to a larger ecosystem, facilitating social evolution in ways the centralized model cannot. Incentivizing participation is key, as is building capacity through cross-sector partnerships. Metanetworks have a special role to play in facilitating CSOs as they adopt new technologies, form partnerships, and disseminate best practices. To further this research my goal is to design and later employ a small-scale pilot program that illustrates the viability and value of large-scale implementation. A pilot program will require buy-in from local organizations and institutional support, and will seek to integrate existing social networks and apps, as well as establish relationships with local governments and companies through the use of ICT. Emerging technologies (and cities more broadly) are rapid and nomadic in nature, therefore implementation will require a flexible mindset and nimble approach. Interoperability is crucial. The solution comes through cultivating partnerships, where priorities are aligned between players. Finally, additional research into existing apps and social programs is recommended.
43 El Feki, Shereen (2015, February 20). An Arab spring of love matters – Al Hubb Thaqafa defies sexual taboos. The Guardian. Retrieved from http://bit.ly/1EfL7v5.
44 Madrid, Isis (2015, March 13). This App Makes Your Phone Buzz When You Approach Places Where Women Made History. GOOD. Retrieved from http://bit.ly/1F344VB.
45 Caravan Studios (n.d.). http://www.caravanstudios.org/.
46 The Survivor Games (n.d.). http://thesurvivorgames.wix.com/beta.
47 TED Talks [TED]. (2014, October 15). Jorge Soto: The future of early cancer detection? [Video File]. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/dm4fvbrMLPw.
48 WINGS. (2014). Infrastructure In Focus: A Special Look at Organizations Serving Community Philanthropy. Sao Paulo. Retrieved from http://bit.ly/1zI6to6.
49 Chris Worman, IBID.
50 Ericsson. (2014). The Role of ICT in the New Urban Agenda [White paper].
51 Delatorre, Chris (2014, September 29). The Two Faces Of Data. Markets for Good. Retrieved from http://bit.ly/1JB3T3E.